Safe Return to Port, adopted by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in 2010, is the regulation that requires passenger vessels with a length of 120m or more, or with three or more main vertical zones, to be designed for improved survivability. The rules are designed to ensure vessels can get back to port rather than carrying out mass evacuations in lifeboats, and will have an impact for builders of superyachts over 120m.

Guidance to help surveyors interpret the rules governing Safe Return to Port has been recently published by the Red Ensign Group (REG). The REG has been at the forefront of developing this guidance because of its involvement with the cruise shipbuilding sector in Bermuda and the UK.

“Lifeboats will still be there but Safe Return to Port is about ensuring that, unless the ship is completely compromised, you’ll be able to keep the passengers on board in a place of safety, with a reasonable level of comfort and security, while the ship makes its own way back to port in an emergency,” explains Taran Card, survey manager at Bermuda Shipping and Maritime Authority.

Card says the new guidance is for surveyors doing continuing surveys of ships that have safe return-to-port systems “These systems can be complex in that the number of spaces sub-dividing compartments is very large, so in our passenger ships we can have over 1,000 safe return-to-port compartments,” he adds. 

“It means a compartment can be lost in an emergency and the ship will still be able to isolate that compartment and retain services to the other areas of the vessel following that emergency. In order to do that you have to have lots of sub-division arrangements, such as isolating piping and electrical systems and rerouting them through to other spaces. That means that all of the arrangements for subdividing have to be maintained and ideally tested throughout the life of the vessel.”

While these requirements were easy to understand for the initial shipbuilding, not much thought was given to ongoing compliance as the vessel ages. “The Technical Forum took that on because we have a large degree of expertise within the REG on large passenger ships,” adds Richard Pellew, co-chair of the REG Technical Forum, which oversees regulatory matters of interest across the British shipping registries.

The guidance is for surveyors who are doing that work during the passenger ship safety surveys to ensure the systems will be operable when the ship is five years old, ten years old in order to make sure everyone knows how it works, and it can still work in an emergency as the ship ages.

“It’ll be a benefit to the surveyors because it’s a clear set of guidelines that they can use to walk through how it should be done," adds Card. “We’re also using it with our clients because they do the ongoing testing, so we are getting our ship managers and crews on our vessels to do testing throughout the year. When we do the passenger ship surveys, our surveyors review their testing, pick some additional compartments to test during the survey as part of the inspection and make sure we have confidence in the overall system as a whole.” The guidance is available to read here.

During this year's The Superyacht Forum, being held from 18-20 November at the RAI Amsterdam, a panel of experts from the Red Ensign Group will share a series of updates on key regulations, followed by an open discussion where delegates can ask specific flag experts their individual questions. Click here for the remaining tickets and further details of the programme.

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